John Butler Trio: Home

review john butler x1 cong

Butler is one of those unfortunates who made his best album early on — Sunrise Over Sea —which fans love. We’re fans and we love it beyond reason; we’d happily pay to see him tour and just play Sunrise year after year, with a couple of other songs to stretch the set out; some newer ones and that loud acoustic one he always does. (See here for his best none-Sunrise album. Fans of JBT might also like this).

Sunrise sees Butler in that perfect state for a young performer, full of ideas, angry at the world and eager for success. He sings about his baby daughter (Peaches), the avarice of industrialists (Damned), the desecration of Aboriginal lands (Company Sin) and the environment (Treat Yo Mamma).

Since then his albums have been a mixed bag, verging towards pedestrian on one awful occasion, though the last one, Flesh and Blood, was something of a return to form.

Reading the Press notes, he seems to have had a nervous breakdown (“breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs”) after trying to deal with his anxiety; he quotes We’re Going On A Bear Hunt about dealing with his mental health: “Can’t go under it, Can’t go over it…”

Basically he’s chilled the fuck out. Sunrise was a classic because — good tunes aside — it used roots music to produce something that made Butler sound older than his years. He then spent years trying to escape this (perhaps the feeling that his music had to mean something) and presumably a shrink has now told him to forget it, because Home is pretty much a straight pop album — less earnest, lots of melody and, of course, musicianship of the highest standard — Butler is a world-class guitarist. It’s not a radical change, just more chilled.

Opener Tahitian Blue is a cheery love song to his wife; Wade in the Water boasts a big grungy riff, not unlike Living In The City from the last album; Just Call echoes earlier Butler as it opens with banjo but then develops a shuffling groove as it turns into some kind of modern take on barn dancing — probably a live favourite. Running Away is almost electronic as it starts (as is the title track) until the banjo riff comes in; Coffee, Methadone and Cigarettes is unexpectedly country, played on deep acoustic guitar.

JBT fans will like it; if you fancy some world-class guitar licks without any showing off, and some good tunes, give it a go. In places he’s almost a bit Coldplay.

(And we’d like to thank the friend who got married the day we had a ticket to see JBT in Manchester; some people really test the bonds of friendship).

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